Wednesday, October 21, 2015

POBB October 14, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 14, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this full week, I’ll review Batman and Superman, Bombshells, Gravedigger, Justice League United, King Tiger, Marvel Zombies, Spider-Gwen, Starfire, Twilight Children and a look at the crowdfunded Star Trek Renegades.

Some may wonder why I buy Batman and Superman.  It after all seems to be an adjunct to the main titles, and the stories are hit or miss.  I have numerous reasons.  

Thanks to Greg Pak, the book is always readable.  In fact sometimes, Batman and Superman surprises you with amazing quality.

In this story, the identity of Superman’s tormentor was more of a who and so what.  However, Pak’s other ideas were novel, well executed, humorous and optimistic.  That counts for 

Batman and Superman is an economical means of keeping up with developments I care nothing about but should know.  Batman and Superman is a lynchpin type of book.  It adheres to the continuity of its heroes’ umbrella of titles.  For that reason, I'm aware that Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman and the current model sometimes dons a robotic bunny suit.  Superman lacks his powers, and the world knows his secret identity.  These arcs are only temporary.  Better to buy just one book that catches you up and at least tries to relate a ripping yarn.  Like this issue.

There are three reasons other than Greg Pak’s strong writing to dictate purchase of the most recent issue of Batman and Superman.

Cliff Richards doing the art.

Vandal Savage.

Batgirl.  Actually four.  Cliff Richards drawing Batgirl.

See how easy that was?

Batgirl is also a member of Justice League United's latest away team, and this issue writer Jeff Parker uses her extremely well.  As a stealthy combatant...

...a superb martial artist...

Action orchestration courtesy of Tom Grummett.

...and as a symbol of innocence that defies Vandal Savage's assumptions.

Batgirl just rescued Savage from Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  They hold a grudge with the immortal.  Like Enemy Ace, Rock knows something curious is going on, more curious than anything he and Easy Company ever faced.

Enemy Ace also beautifully written recently saved the Star-Spangled Kid from the gravity of his mis-staged dogfight.  The Enemy Ace fights according to a code.  Part of that code is not attacking frauleins even if they fly in the sky.  The other codicils are a little surprising.

While Batgirl and The Kid make new friends or rescue teammates, Cliff Steele and Cyborg contend against the Creature Commandos who add Frankenstein, G.I. Robot and new character G.I. Zombie to their ranks.

Seriously, why are you still sitting here reading my review.  Go and buy this issue?

Justice League United comes off as a Bronze Age comic book.  You would drop by your local drugstore, plunk down two quarters and select a comic book, with a story that you hadn't read from the beginning.  

Nevertheless, the writer would be so good at his job that you would soon catch up on the plot.  The characters could be anybody, including heroes and associates that you never encountered before but were happy to meet.

Bombshells opens with the only good version of Batwoman in the comics beating the snot out of a Nazi sympathizer.  

No doubt, the shitty idiots at Fox and Friends will be giddily decrying the evil lesbian smackdown of a good conservative boy who just wants to protect the borders.

Batwoman replaces Batman in the Bombshells universe, and as you can see, writer Marguerite Bennett eliminates the birth of the Dark Knight in one, altruistic fell swoop.  The scene furthermore introduces Batman's new 52 associate Harper.  Love her, or hate her, Harper is part of the Batman mythos.  So it makes sense to see an analogue go ga-ga over Batwoman.

After an extra sumptuous bit of subtext courtesy of artist Marguerite Savauge, Batwoman meets up with Amanda Waller and perhaps the best DC espionage hijinks I've seen, by way of Doctor Who.

I love DC comics, but when it comes to spies, they suck.  It doesn't matter the era.  Marvel wastes DC with SHIELD.  DC tried and failed numerous times to produce something congruent, and I just don't believe organizations such as UNCLE, MI-6 or the CIA for that matter work in DC cosmology.  

Bombshells on the other hand soaks up pop culture and reinvents it.  This is essentially a universe from scratch.  Therefore, Bennett can easily modify a World War II agency to fit the needs of a cosmos populated by super-women.

The tale segues to Berlin where the Nazis make a pact with a dark lord, and Zatanna's caught in the middle.  From there, Wonder Woman and Mera transport Steve Trevor back home.  All interesting and amusing, but none of these scenarios really compares to the smooth setup of Batwoman becoming a spy for the Allies and her relationship with 1940s police captain Maggie Sawyer.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner split this issue of Starfire into three equally interesting vignettes.  In the first story, Starfire encounters the new Big Bad that served as the past subject of a subplot.

Because of the surreptitious nature of the character, Kori meets him in a bar rather than on the battlefield.  Because of Kori's unique power of touch telepathic absorption, both hero and villain get more than they bargained for.

The pacing of the encounter is perfect, and its more like something you would see in a novel, with this being the first chapter.  That's because the language of the superhero book is in general bombastic, but Conner and Palmiotti surprise you with subtlety.  It's especially unexpected in a title that centers on an uninhibited character whose cadre of abilities include shooting solar beams from her hands.

The second short draws upon what could have been a dismissed joke, but sure enough Kori is neither surprised nor flummoxed when one of her unusual stones begins to exhibit life.

This could be a sweet little moment never discussed again, or it may impact on future storylines.  Either way, it's an effective antidote to the usual filler.

Last but not least, certainly the funniest, Kori seeks a job at an aquarium.

Not to worry, LGBT.  Beth is a porpoise.

Once again, Starfire's alien abilities come to the fore, and Palmiotti and Conner appear to be the only writers who see Kori's more nuanced enhancements as superior subjects ripe for exploration.

The running joke in Spider-Gwen has been the Bodega Bandit, a possibly mentally ill felon who singles out convenience stores.  This issue, writer Jason Latour grants the Bandit a modicum of dignity, and in turn, gives Spider-Woman (Gwen) more empathy.

The cause for the Bandit's sorrow is a return of sorts that provides the grain of mystery that Spider-Gwen must solve.  The solution takes her into the sewers where her practical tactics net her a different sort of reward.

Latour sheds the angst Gwen felt over her scattershot life in favor of a more certain future.  Gwen's more confident in her relationship with the Mary Janes, her band and friends, her father and in her crusade as Spider-Woman.  Of course, not all things are rosy for the web-spinner.

She's still wanted by the police...

...and blamed for Peter Parker's murder.

Still, on a personal level, Gwen has a lot more fun being Spider-Woman and drumming for the band.  This new attitude justifies the new number one, even if its just part of the blanket renumbering of books after Battle World.

The conclusion to Marvel Zombies is satisfying and wonderfully complex.  I have a low tolerance for zombies.  I don't watch The Walking Dead, and the zombie movies I do possess are usually of the so-bad they're good variety.

Abundant nudity also helps.  Thank you, Aurreta Gay.

So, I don't expect much from a zombie production.  Zombies to me are shambling corpses who shouldn't do much except fall over dead.  I don't get how they have super-strength.  I don't understand why their jaws don't fall off when they try to take bites out of people.  I mean, yeah, magic, but after Romero, most zombie films tried to suggest a scientific means for the dead rising out of their graves.  No.  Don't buy it.  Zombies to me are the hobos of the undead and utterly impossible.

Any way, Simon Spurrier's setup is just as nonsensical as any other zombie thing.  The zombies need brains to keep what little wits they have.  Fine.  Whatever.   The zombies are really just a backdrop.  They're the reverse mcguffin.  

It doesn't hurt having artist Kev Walker on your team.

The key to Spurrier's success lies in what he does for protagonist Elsa Bloodstone.  So many bizarre twists conclude the story without muss or fuss, and then just for an encore, Spurrier conceives of an ending that's positively exhilarating.  

Created by Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke, Twilight Children should be a knockout punch, but I didn’t really see it that way.  It’s all right.  It won’t kill you, but it’s nothing compared to The New Frontier.  

On the flip-side, I’m willing to admit to bias.  I began reading comic books for the simple pleasures of  superheroes.  Over the years, I’ve become more receptive to other genre-based comic books, but I’m still mainly drawn to the superhero base.  

As you may have expected, I never read Love and Rockets. I flipped through the book that Hernandez is best known for when it first hit the racks.  I decided that it wasn’t for me.  Not because of the caliber of writing or artwork.  Love and Rockets simply didn’t deal with superheroes, and at the time, that’s what I looked for.

I know that Love and Rockets garnered a rabid fan base.  There’s a band named after the comic book.  Cosmos knows, many people have asked me to try Love and Rockets.  I’ve resisted.  Never the less, I intended to give one Hernandez another chance.  That chance is Twilight Children.

Given my love for Darwyn Cooke’s artwork, a book illustrated by him and written by Hernandez seemed to be a safe bet for finding out what the big deal is.  This, some would say, deficit of knowledge also gives me a clear-eyed view of Hernandez as a writer.  I’m going with competent.

Twilight Children to me seems like a mashup of nineteen fifties science fiction films and one walloping pop culture reference.  The difference is that the archetypes in those nineteen fifties films filter through a contemporary hourglass.

The Sheriff is Latino.  The government agent is a woman. There’s a youthful cigarette smoking scientist via Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and othersIn what I guess is a gag on the ostracism of cigarette smokers, the townspeople react like they're in Invasion of the Body Snatchers when they see the fellow light up.  Got news for Hernandez and Cooke.  I grew up in the seventies.  By and large, smokers were rude.  When you said, “I mind very much if you smoke” or such, they either ignored you or gave you a dirty look and continued puffing.  So, tit for tat, gentlemen.  These characters so far are supplementary.  The focus lies on the tots.

The kids appear to be inspired by The Space Children.  

You may argue that I can’t make such a comparison.  You may suggest that kids exploring seaside caves is too common an idea.  So why did Cooke and Hernandez bring in a creepy bald guy as well?



The kids’ fates fruit classic science fiction ramifications, but I’ll not spoil these plot devices, unoriginal though they may be.

There is however no disguising an obvious Prisoner reference. 

Sewn into this tribute we find a tawdry little pulp tale where an evil woman leads a good man down the twisted path of cheating.

Yeah.  A good man controls his penis.  It’s one thing to sleep with somebody you don’t know is married.  That’s a mistake.  We’ll give you that one.  It’s quite another to volunteer for the hump.  Oh, and your vacillating the right and wrong over following your member as if it were the Toucan Sam of married loins, doesn’t make you a protagonist.  It just makes you wishy-washy.

Twilight Children may shake free from the paean premiere, but for now its just too dull and derivative to recommend.  Cooke’s artwork also in my opinion pops when swathed in a cape and cowl.  Not here.

The pulp in Gravedigger is much more honest.  Digger joins a crew for a heist.  Plain and simple.  

Digger is not a hero.  He's an antagonist in the classic sense.  The characters are degrees of rotten, with their only saving grace being that they kill other hoods.

Gravedigger fascinates with its larger-than-life characters and the look of a lost Lee Marvin film, unspooling before your very eyes.  

Although Digger and Anton, from Twilight Children, share the same weakness, Digger never believed himself to be a good man.  Red, Angel's husband, certainly isn't.

Digger's and Angel's cheating on Red isn't any more justifiable than Anton's cuckolding his friend.  However, such a tryst is part and parcel of a good pulp.  Digger's moral compass though broken still functions.  He doesn't like Red, and he doesn't like that Red hurts Angel.  So, although Digger is a bad man, his reasoning goes a little deeper than Anton's, which is Tito is a nice piece of tail.

Naturally Digger and Angel do not live happily ever after.  The pulp demands read just as fresh in Christopher Mill's prose as they did in Richard Prather's work, and Rich Burchett's illustration provides plenty of excitement.

We discovered numerous secrets about King Tiger at the same time as his lady Rikki learned of them.  All of these secrets remove King Tiger from the class of mere martial artist and just a sorcerer.  You don't actually need to know this, not that I'm telling, because King Tiger has a lot more going for it.

First and foremost, there's that artwork by Doug Wheatley and Rain Beredo.  

Writer Randy Stradley creates strong characters for Wheatley and Beredo to flesh out.

The atmosphere is freewheeling.  Despite taking place on a relatively realistic mirror earth, you get the impression that anything can happen.  All of these virtues make King Tiger an excellent addition to your brown bag. 

Saturday Afternoon at the Movies

Star Trek Renegades is a marvelous continuation of the original universe.  I like that the pilot takes Trek into uncharted waters, which is what each Trek should do and has done.  In Next Gen, Star Trek warped into a future respective to Kirk, McCoy and Spock.  Deep Space Nine, Trek mediated political strife between warring species now operating under a tenuous peace.  Voyager, a ship cut off from the Federation under the command of a formidable woman named Janeway.  Enterprise the beginning of Star Trek, intelligently filling in the blanks from how Red Alert began to the mind-melding Vulcans separating from a paranoid non-telepathic majority.

Renegades presents the flip-side of the squeaky clean Federation founded by Captain Jonathan Archer, who gets a wonderful name-check.  Recruited by Admiral Pavel Chekov portrayed once again by Walter Koenig, the new crew of Star Trek consists of smugglers, thieves and assassins.  They’re assembled to stop an alien species called the Siphon from picking off planets one-by-one.  

Renegades is jaw-dropping good.  Its Trek ties are honest and subtle.  There’s a sweet tribute to Leonard Nimoy within the familiar setting of the Federation’s headquarters on future earth.  The entire cast which range from well-known actors like Sean Young and Gary Graham to lesser knowns like Adrienne Wilkinson (Xena’s daughter Eve) assuming star status as Captain Lexxa Singh are superb.  The plot’s ingenious and credibly introduces a fresh threat that goes beyond the brutal and effective Siphon.  The special effects are polished.  The makeup, costuming and sets, imaginative and fascinating.  

Star Trek Renegades also offers more spice than the television series ever could get away with.  Mind you, the sixties ladies costumes did offer a lot more skin, and Kirk frequently found himself shirtless.  More importantly, in one scene Renegades establishes that sexual orientation is not one-sided in the future.  This is something many Trek fans have longed for since Next Gen.  

For more information about perhaps the most canon of non-canonical productions.  Check out Star Trek Renegades.

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